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Dani Alves’ rape conviction is a huge moment for Spain – but there’s a long way to go


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It was, according to certain sections of the Spanish media, ‘the trial of the year’.

Dani Alves, the former Brazil and Barcelona right-back and one of the most decorated footballers of his generation, stood accused of sexually assaulting a 23-year-old woman in a nightclub in Barcelona. After three long days of hearings earlier this month, a mass of journalists swarmed around the doors of the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Catalunya (the Superior Justice Court of Catalonia) on Thursday morning to hear the verdict.

Alves was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to four and a half years in prison along with a further five years of ‘supervised’ freedom upon release. He has already paid €150,000 (£128,000; $163,000) to the victim plus legal fees and cannot communicate with her, or go within one kilometre of her, for nine years and six months.

The court found that Alves “brusquely took the complainant, threw her to the ground and, stopping her from being able to move, penetrated her” at the Sutton club on the night of December 30, 2022. It said Alves had done this “despite the complainant saying no, that she wanted to go” meaning there was an “absence of consent, with the use of violence and carnal access”.


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The sentence took some by surprise; the victim’s lawyers had been demanding 12 years, while Spanish prosecutors wanted nine. Alves’ legal team, meanwhile, have promised an appeal, maintaining their client is innocent.

Regardless, the fact that Alves — a player with 43 major honours on his CV — has been sentenced to prison at all represents a landmark moment. It is the highest-profile sexual assault conviction since a groundbreaking new law was introduced in Spain in August 2022 and suggests there has been a significant change in how sexual assault is understood in the country.

Alves at his trial earlier this month (David Zorrakino/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

The new law is called the ‘Ley de Garantia Integral de Libertad Sexual’ (Law of Comprehensive Guarantee of Sexual Freedom), but is better known as the ‘solo si es si’ law — ‘only yes is yes’. It states that “consent shall only be deemed to exist when it has been freely expressed by acts” that “clearly express the will of the person”.

The law put the focus on consent and removed the distinction between sexual abuse and sexual assault — previously understood as the use of force. Under ‘solo si es si’, no victim had to prove the use of force and passivity was recognised as a consequence of intimidation.

It came about after the controversy in Spain over the ‘La Manada case’, in which five men with a WhatsApp chat called La Manada (the pack) raped an 18-year-old woman during the San Fermin festival in the northern city of Pamplona in 2016.

The Spanish justice system initially found them guilty of sexual abuse rather than rape. This led to nationwide demonstrations and backlash from feminist groups, who called for a change in the law to offer women more protection. The group’s prison sentence was later raised from nine to 15 years for rape and the government began to redesign the law.

This process has influenced how the Alves case has been dealt with. The Sutton nightclub in which the assault took place quickly activated their sexual aggression protocol; prosecutors believed the victim’s statement and the evidence she brought despite not having a recording or other proof of what took place in the club’s bathrooms. It did not hesitate in placing Alves in pre-trial detention for fear he might flee to Brazil — a country that does not extradite to Spain — and her identity was kept anonymous, even when she gave her testimony during the trial.

Perhaps if alleged victims and witnesses had that support from the system in England, some recent cases would have developed differently. It is nearly a year since Mason Greenwood, now on loan at Getafe from Manchester United, had the charges against him of attempted rape, controlling and coercive behaviour and assault dropped after key witnesses withdrew their evidence and other material came to light. Greenwood has always strongly denied the allegations, but perhaps in Spain, the case would have moved forward to a trial. And perhaps the Premier League player who was first arrested on suspicion of rape in July 2022 would not be playing regularly and neither he nor his alleged victims would still be waiting for a charging decision.



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The feminist organisations consulted by The Athletic for this article saw Alves’ conviction as a victory and an end to perceived impunity for powerful men. They said there was now a feeling the law applied equally to everyone, regardless of a person’s money or status.

The wording of the sentencing remarks can also be considered a success given how the ‘only yes is yes’ law revolves around consent.

“Neither the fact the complainant danced in an insinuating manner, nor that she brought her buttocks close to the accused or that she was even able to embrace the accused can lead us to assume that she consented to everything that might subsequently take place,” the court said.

The ‘La Manada’ case led to widespread demonstrations in Spain (Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“These attitudes or even the existence of insinuations do not give carte blanche to any subsequent abuse or aggression; consent in sexual relations must always be given before and even during sex in such a way that a person can agree to have relations up to a certain point and not show consent to continue, or not to carry out certain sexual conduct or to do so according to certain conditions and not others.”

The court did not take into account cliches of rape culture such as the idea that “dancing provocatively” justifies an attacker’s actions — even if this was used by Alves’ defence during the trial. This gives women much more protection and means they are free to act as they wish without their actions being misunderstood as a sexual provocation.

It also means a woman can enter a nightclub bathroom voluntarily and decide at any time that she does not want to engage in certain sexual practices — not respecting that is sexual assault. The court also discarded Alves’ drunkenness as an extenuating circumstance, as “it could not be concluded that the defendant’s psychophysical faculties were altered”, which was a large part of the Brazilian’s defence.



Dani Alves – from 43 trophies to four years in prison

Not that everyone was satisfied by the outcome — and specifically the length of the sentence handed down to Alves.

“For me, it’s a low sentence — in this professional office, we have been dealing with very many cases of sexual violence and it’s the lowest sentence we have had in more than 20 years,” Ester Garcia, the victim’s lawyer, said.

“The sentence is not legitimate, nor can it be legitimised by the latest reform of the Penal Code that has been made in this area, the so-called ‘only yes is yes’ law.”

One of the mitigating factors in deciding the sentence was Alves putting €150,000 in damages into a non-refundable account for the victim before finding out his trial verdict. That money was given to him by the family of Alves’ former Barcelona and Brazil team-mate Neymar and was rejected by the prosecution.

It is also unlikely Alves will serve all four years in jail. He is considered to have already served one year having been held in a jail to the north west of Barcelona since his arrest on January 20, 2023. Once all appeals have been made and the final sentence is known, Alves could apply to be released on good behaviour for 36 days a year after serving a third or half of his sentence. That means he could be allowed out of prison, albeit temporarily, as early as July.

Nonetheless, Alves’ conviction represents a clear willingness to believe victims of sexual assault. It also ends the misconception that an aggressor is some kind of monster separate from society and shows they could just as easily be a successful footballer.

This is not the first conviction of its kind in Spain. The former Spain Under-21 striker Santi Mina was sentenced to four years in prison for sexually assaulting a woman in June 2017. The player was sentenced in May 2022 and his Celta Vigo contract was unilaterally terminated in August. He is awaiting the appeal verdict over his sentencing.

Santi Mina, centre left, played in Saudi Arabia while he awaited an appeal verdict (Noushad Thekkayil/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Other examples show how far Spain lags behind others.

Consider how long former Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) chief Luis Rubiales was able to hold onto power after his unsolicited kiss on women’s World Cup winner Jennifer Hermoso last summer — he is facing a criminal trial and has always maintained it was consensual.



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But it still feels like a watershed moment and was certainly being hailed as one by many politicians. Yolanda Diaz, Spain’s second vice-president, said the verdict suggested the country had had “enough of machismo, of sexual aggression”.

Irene Montero, the left-wing Podemos party’s candidate for the European elections and the former equality minister, suggested “the sentence is the result of the feminist struggle for the right to sexual freedom and to put consent at the centre. Impunity is over. Only yes is yes”.

For the victim, the psychological effects of the assault remain. She has not been able to return to work since that night 14 months ago, is under medical treatment for anxiety, and has had to listen to Alves call her a liar in interviews given from prison, putting her under a harsh spotlight from which many people would struggle to return.

The hope is it represents a line in the sand from a societal as well as legal standpoint, but it is only the beginning.

There is still a lot to do.

(Top photo: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

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